June 09, 2020

Destination Unknown

On TNT’s Snowpiercer, the survivors of an apocalypse are stuck circling the globe on a train with a strict class divide.

Tatiana Siegel

It's 3 p.m., and Jennifer Connelly has just wrapped another day overseeing the remote learning plan for Agnes, eight, and Stellan, 16.

She is hunkering down in Vermont with her husband, actor Paul Bettany, and their children while half the planet endures some version of lockdown. Her 22-year-old son, Kai, is stuck in Los Angeles, where he lives and works. "We haven't gone this long without seeing him. ever!" she says ruefully.

Connelly had considered making this a video interview but nixed it due to the unreliable wi-fi in her rural area. What little broadband is available must be saved for the kids and their virtual afterschool activities.

A publicist had set up a call-in number but wasn't able to patch Connelly through — an apt sign of these unpredictable times.

"I can't remember if it's three weeks or four weeks now that we've been here," says Connelly, whose primary residence is in that hottest of hot zones, New York City.

"We don't go anywhere. The other day, the UPS guy came, and the kids got so excited. They were like, 'We haven't seen a person in a week! Can we watch?' And I was like, 'Yeah. Sure.' And they literally sat on the staircase and watched as I opened the door and waved and talked to the UPS guy from a distance.

"That human connection, not having that contact, has been really difficult for everyone."

The actress, who won an Oscar in 2002 for playing Alicia Nash in A Beautiful Mind, is acclimating to the strange new rhythms of life, where rehearsing lines in a trailer has been replaced by Zoom classrooms at the kitchen table.

With the passage of time having slowed to a glacial pace, Connelly is patiently awaiting the debut of the TNT series Snowpiercer, which marks her first television work in two decades (she starred in the short-lived Fox drama The $treet back in 2000–01).

Her castmates, like Tony Award winner Daveed Diggs (Hamilton), have scattered and are quarantining in various locales.

Diggs is riding out the global pandemic in Los Angeles, while Mickey Sumner (Frances Ha) is holed up on a secluded British Columbia island and Lena Hall (a Tony winner for Hedwig and the Angry Inch) is in rural Connecticut.

Alison Wright, who played the all-too-trusting FBI secretary Martha Hanson on The Americans, is one of the few who remains in Vancouver, near the set that abruptly shut down on March 13.

Snowpiercer, which is based on the 1982 French graphic novel series Le Transperceneige, takes place seven years after the world has become an uninhabitable wasteland.

Like the 2013 film adaptation of the same name from Oscar-winning director Bong Joon Ho (Parasite), the series centers on the survivors, who inhabit a 1,001-car train that perpetually circles the snowy planet. But that's where the similarities end.

The plotline and characters, including Connelly's Melanie Cavill, are newly invented. As the train's formidable head of hospitality, Melanie wields political power and enjoys access to the very top.

But her moral compass vacillates wildly — a juicy setup for a post-apocalyptic world in which isolation, class warfare, social injustice and the politics of survival reign. Sound familiar?

"One thing I loved about the show is that on the surface it's fun, exciting and stylish. Through a sci-fi lens, you're telling a very human story about love and loss and pain and recovery," she says.

"But it also happens to ask relevant questions about subjects like the use of resources and power, and those subjects seem that much more pressing and urgent right now."


When the 10-episode first season premiered on May 17, it marked the culmination of a journey six years in the making.

In 2014, Tomorrow Studios' Marty Adelstein (Prison Break) had just finished watching Bong's film when his wife turned to him and asked, "What did you think?" he recalls. "And I said, 'I'm going to make a TV show out of this.'

"The minute I saw the movie, I knew this was a great TV show." He immediately approached South Korean powerhouse Miky Lee, whose CJ Entertainment produced the film, and made her an offer for the TV rights.

The Weinstein Company's Radius label had released Snowpiercer in the U.S., and TWC was interested in developing the property for television. But Adelstein's bid won, and he struck an agreement with Lee.

"Once we were able to lock down the rights, which were convoluted and took about a year, we were off to the races," says Adelstein, who ultimately would executive-produce the series alongside Becky Clements, Graeme Manson, James Hawes and Matthew O'Connor. "But it turned out to be a long, slow race." ...

For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of emmy magazine.

This article appeared in its entirety in emmy magazine, Issue No. 6, 2020

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